8 top tips to keep your car running well

Cars are no different from any other consumer items- they have finite service lives, and no matter how dearly we would love to keep our cars forever, they will eventually wear out. However, it needn’t wear out before you make the last payment on it- there are many ways to extend the life of any car, so if you want to keep your for as long as you can, simply follow these easy tips to keep it in peak running condition for many years. These guidelines are easy to follow, do not cost you anything extra, and will certainly save you money in the long run. Here is how to do it-

Keep to your car’s maintenance schedule.

You may have heard that the only people who benefit from this are mechanics and dealerships, but nothing could be further from the truth. Maintenance schedules are designed to give your car the longest possible service life at the lowest possible cost to you, the owner, and you disregard the schedule at your own risk.

Of particular importance is the fact that more and more new cars are now fitted with oil life monitoring systems. These systems calculate the remaining useful life of engine oil, and among other factors, it uses your driving style to do so. In practice, it means that if you drive aggressively, the high loads placed on the oil shortens the oil’s life span, while if you have a more sedate driving style, the oil in the engine does not work as hard, and thus lasts longer.

This in turn means that oil can be made to last longer if you adapt your driving style. The oil life monitoring system will recognize this, and it may allow you to exceed the normal, 6000-mile oil change. The system will illuminate a warning light if it senses that the oil has reached the end of its service life, which depending on your driving style, could be long before 6000 miles, or long after it.

In both cases, you benefit because the engine is always lubricated by high quality oil, which translates into a longer service life, and lower maintenance costs over the long term.

Check the engine oil level regularly.

It does not matter how old your car is- it needs a sufficient quantity of high quality oil to function properly. All engines use some oil, which is why it is critically important to monitor the oil level on a regular basis, such as once week, since by the time the check engine-, or oil pressure warning light comes on, the damage may already have been done. However, never mix engine oils when you adjust the oil level- stick to one brand because the additives in different brands are not always compatible, which is always a bad thing.

Some additives, and especially friction modifiers and detergents can neutralize each other, so while you may think you are doing the right thing by adding oil, you are actually contributing to your engine’s early demise. Only ever use high quality branded oil, and stick to one brand and formulation when you perform scheduled oil changes to extend your engine’s useful life.

Check the coolant level regularly.

It goes without saying that without sufficient coolant, any engine will overheat, but there is more to coolant than meets the eye. Modern engines are much more prone to corrosion than ever before, which is the primary reason why the concentration of anti-freeze in the water is so important.

Anti-freeze prevents freezing and overheating of the coolant, but it also prevents corrosion that can, and does, cause internal coolant leaks. Corrosion of aluminum engine parts cause coolant leaks past hose clamps and clips, thermostat housings, and other components, and if coolant seeps past the cylinder head gasket(s), the resulting damage is always expensive to repair.

The ability of anti-freeze to combat corrosion diminishes after about 12 months, so even if you do not detect coolant leaks on the outside of the engine, it could be that some coolant is lost past the cylinder head gasket(s), where some of it is burned off, and some ends up in the oil.

Any coolant loss must be investigated immediately, but then again, if you replace the coolant once a year, you are unlikely to ever experience coolant-related issues. Thus, by replacing the coolant regularly, you save on overall maintenance costs while extending the life of your engine, since in some cases, corrosion damage cannot be repaired.

Check the brake fluid regularly.

Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means that it attracts, and absorbs water from the atmosphere. Unfortunately though, the water that collects in the reservoir spreads throughout the brake system to cause rust and corrosion in all the metal components, and particularly in the master-, and wheel cylinders.

If you check your brake fluid regularly, you may have noticed a steady drop in the level- this is normal, and it happens because the brake pads and linings are wearing down. However, a sudden drop in the level indicates a leak in the system, and it must be investigated immediately to prevent possible catastrophic brake failure.

Monitoring the brake fluid level, and the color of the brake fluid is the easiest way to monitor the health of your brake system. Brake fluid must be a straw, or light amber color; black, brown, or dark yellow brake fluid indicates water contamination, and there is no remedy for it except replacing ALL the brake fluid in the system.

By replacing the brake fluid at least one a year during a scheduled service, you not only preserve the health and proper operation of the brake system- you also preserve your own, and your passengers’ lives by being able to depend on your brakes.

Check drive belts regularly.

Nowadays, most cars have only one belt to drive all the ancillary equipment like the water pump, alternator, A/C compressor, and power steering pump. Thus, it makes good sense to have this belt, called the serpentine belt, inspected at least during every scheduled service. However, about half of all belt failures are caused by the failure of idler pulleys or tensioning devices, so there is little point in merely checking the belt for signs of fraying, cracking or splitting.

The belt must be removed from the engine to allow inspection of all pulleys, which must all rotate freely, and without any free play, or deviation from the plane of rotation. Any binding, sticking, or noise from any pulley is bad, and the affected pulley must be replaced to protect the drive belt, and your engine. Serpentine belt failure at high engine speeds can cause overheating and loss of the power steering, but also the destruction of the radiator and cooling fan(s) by pieces of the belt as they fly around the front of the engine at near-light speed.

Avoid this scenario simply by replacing the serpentine belt at the prescribed intervals, and make sure all pulleys and tensioning devices are in perfect condition.

Replace the timing belt(s) regularly.

Timing belts are critical components, and if a belt fails, some engines, called “interference” type engines, can suffer severe and even fatal damage. It is certainly possible to replace some timing belts on a DIY basis, but most, if not all timing belt replacements require special tools and expert knowledge, and are best left to professional mechanics.

It is a foolish economy to save money on skipping, or postponing a timing belt replacement, since the cost of replacing an interference type engine can be more than your car is worth. In most cases, the recommended replacement interval for timing belts is about 60 000 miles, but don’t bank on this. There are many factors that determine the life of timing belts, and one of the most important is the presence of dust in the air.

If you live in a particularly dusty area, you need to replace the timing belt much more frequently because dust is abrasive in all its forms, and depending on the type of dust, such as that from open-cast mines, it can shorten a timing belt’s life by as much as 50%. Protect your engine, and extend its life by replacing the timing belt before the recommended mileage, but adapt the replacement interval to suit local conditions.

Check radiator hoses regularly.

Radiator hoses are generally not subject to prescribed replacement intervals, which is strange, because more than 60% of engine failures due to overheating is caused by ruptured radiator hoses.

Inspect hoses for signs of swelling, bulging, cracking, or other signs of damage, such as chafing against engine components. Radiator hoses must be firm to the touch, and not sticky, which is a sign of deterioration caused by contact with engine oil. Replace radiator hoses at least once every three years to prevent damage to your engine through overheating.

Don’t create problems.

The guidelines in this article apply to almost all cars, but resist the temptation to see problems where none exist. Normal wear and tear will cause failures and issues, but these are part and parcel of car ownership.

If you take care of the basics of car care and maintenance, the chances of serious issues developing are greatly reduced. We are of course not suggesting that you should ignore clear signs of trouble, but do not over service your car- it is a waste of good money, and it achieves nothing. Besides, if you insist that there is something wrong with your car, your mechanic might just “discover” a fault, and stick you with a repair bill that you perhaps cannot afford.

Just stick with basic preventative maintenance, and your car will serve you well for many years.